MEN’S BASKETBALL: After slow start to season, Yale heads into Ivy Madness on top
The Yale men’s basketball team dropped their first two games of the season, but a late-season surge set up an Ivy League semifinal game against Cornell as the favorites to repeat as the league’s representative in the NCAA tournament.
Courtesy of David Schamis
Princeton, N.J. — With the semifinal game of the Ivy League tournament less than 24 hours away, the Yale men’s basketball team (20–7, 10–4 Ivy) — fresh off a regular-season conference title — enter as the number one seed. But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing this season for the Bulldogs.
Just over two months ago, a hushed silence fell over the John J. Lee Amphitheater as the Elis trodded off the court after losing their home-opener to Dartmouth College and falling to 0–2 in conference play, having lost in a shocking upset against Columbia University in their season-opener.
“For the last two hours I didn’t witness anything that resembled Yale basketball, and we did a poor job in all facets of the game tonight,” head coach James Jones said at the time.
Now, after turning the team’s season around and earning the title of Ivy League Coach of the Year, Jones is looking for a repeat of last year’s tournament success and another NCAA tournament bid.
“I would consider ourselves the favorite by virtue of the number one seed,” Jones said. “We did a little better than everyone else did. I feel really good about us and we’re confident about what we have the chance to do, but I suspect the other three teams are confident too.”
The Bulldogs will face off against fourth-seeded Cornell University (17–10, 7–7) tomorrow at 11 a.m and currently are listed as a six-point favorite. They are listed by DraftKings sportsbook as +115 to win the tournament, with second-seeded Princeton University (19–8, 10–3) not far behind at +155. Third-seeded University of Pennsylvania (17–12, 9–5) and Cornell are listed at +650 and +1000, respectively.
Yale lost to the Big Red in their first encounter this season, suffering a 94–82 loss despite holding a 70–57 lead with less than ten minutes remaining.
“I’m very optimistic about this team and looking forward to continuing our push,” Jones said at the time, with the Blue and White sitting in seventh place at 1–3.
And push they did, as the Elis rattled off six straight wins after that, including a dominant 87–65 win over Princeton at home and key victories against Harvard Univeristy and Penn.
But the team’s momentum was halted on a Feb. 17 road trip to Penn, as forward Matt Knowling ’24 went down with an ankle injury late in the first half, and the Quakers edged out a 66–64 win to end the streak. The following game against Princeton, the Bulldogs — without Knowling — found themselves trailing by 17 points with seven minutes remaining, but barked back to force overtime and earn a 93–83 win, giving them a crucial tiebreaker against the Tigers, who also finished with a 10–4 conference record but head into the tournament as the second seed.
Bez to the bucket for the tie!
Yale 70, Princeton 70
We are headed to overtime.
📺 | https://t.co/xElRUKGhit
🌎 | https://t.co/oemSYNq7aw
📊 | https://t.co/sYQwbhvl3B#ThisIsYale pic.twitter.com/B6CpDdLORz
— Yale Men’s Basketball (@YaleMBasketball) February 19, 2023
Yale followed the win up with an 18-point victory over Cornell and ended the season on a high note, defeating Brown 84–75 to claim their sixth Ivy League championship.
“I think the tour still goes until we’re off to March Madness,” forward EJ Jarvis ‘23 said after the game. “These are just regular season games. We want the whole thing.”
Now, ahead of a win-or-go-home game that could be his last in Yale blue, Jarvis says his mindset doesn’t change.
“The mentality is win at all costs, it’s do or die right now” he said. “All these teams are on equal playing terms right now so we gotta win and close out our games, and if we do, then see you at March Madness.”
Jarvis scored a career-high 34 points and 10 rebounds in Yale’s last game against Cornell. In each of Yale’s last three games, a different player has set a career-high in points. Against Princeton, guard John Poulakidas ‘25 scored a career-best 30 points, and fellow sophomore guard Bez Mbeng ‘25 scored 27 against Brown in the season finale.
EJ to the bucket!
📺 | https://t.co/bKJKeJvLqO
🌎 | https://t.co/bmkzfCoUoa
📊 | https://t.co/SeIfrLvrkK#ThisIsYale pic.twitter.com/BiUDSHjdbO
— Yale Men’s Basketball (@YaleMBasketball) February 26, 2023
Each of Yale’s regular starters, Jarvis (11.7), Mbeng (10.1), Poulakidas (11.9), Knowling (14.5) and Mahoney (10.3) average double digit scoring figures, the only team in the Ivy League to boast that statistic.
“It’s like playing against five different star players,” Cornell head coach Brian Earl joked.
With a victory tomorrow, the Bulldogs would be set to face the winner of the Princeton vs Penn game in the championship matchup. The winner of that game would gain an automatic bid to the NCAA championship.
“It’s always an honor and a privilege to play in March Madness, we don’t take anything for granted,” team captain Michael Feinberg ‘23 said.
“We’re ready to do whatever it takes to win.”